Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Kerrey’s Vietnam Dilemma

Roger Cohen, New York Times

image from
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Lives can turn in an instant. For former Senator Bob Kerrey, that moment came on Feb. 25, 1969, when, as a young lieutenant in the Navy SEALs, he led his squad into the Vietnamese village of Thanh Phong. By the time they withdrew, 20 civilians had been slaughtered, including 13 children, according to survivors.
“It haunted me from the moment we pulled out of the area,” Kerrey told me in a telephone conversation. “I knew we had done something wrong. I did not walk away saying that was great. It did not go away. But if you don’t adjust you end your life, and we are talking, so I did not end my life.”
In fact, Kerrey went to work to build a special relationship between the United States and Vietnam. He was an early advocate of the normalization through which many wounds have healed. Trade has flourished. The rapturous reception extended last month to President Obama — the warmest accorded by any nation during his presidency, as he confided to an American diplomat — was a measure of an almost miraculous reconciliation.
One area in which Kerrey has worked hard is education, both as senator and later as president of the New School in New York. For many years he helped to raise money for a project Obama announced: the opening of the Fulbright University Vietnam [see; on Senator Fulbright, see], the first such private institution in the country. Financed in part by the U.S. Congress, the school will accept its first students next year. Kerrey has been named chairman of the board.
The appointment has ignited a storm [see also]. From cafes to Facebook a debate rages on whether Kerrey is fit to head the university. ...
Certainly, this unusually vigorous and open debate is an example of what the university should embody in a country under one-­party rule. As Ben Wilkinson, the executive director of the Trust for University Innovation in Vietnam, the nonprofit corporation behind the project, told me, “The university will be a major advance for organized civil society.”
Kerrey should resist calls to quit. As no other, he embodies the agony of overcoming war’s legacy. But he should send back that medal. He should push for the establishment of a Bui Van Vat fellowship in international humanitarian law. ...

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